He was a young man who played alone in his living room on the Cuyahoga and he had gone two hundred eighty-four days now without taking a dub. In the first one hundred fourty days his girl had been with him. But after one hundred fourty days his girl had grown weary and bored saying the young man would now definitely and finally drop all of his combos, which is the worst way to hold an L, and his girl had gone at her desire to play Animal Crossing, where she caught three rare fish in the first week. It made his girl sad to see the young man come in each day dubless and she always went down to help him carry either the coiled cords of his PowerA Fight Pad or the notebook with all his match-up knowledge and the pen that was folded inside. The notebook was missing its cover and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.
With all Hemingway jokes aside, fighting games are and have been a major factor in my life for a long time now and I’d like to share with you the full story of my adventure with a beautiful, poetic, hype genre of gaming.
Some of the earliest memories of childhood I retain are peppered with fighting games; two in particular being the original Mortal Kombat and Tekken 3. Playing Sub-Zero on the bloodless Super Nintendo version of MK and being entirely unable to defeat Sonya Blade in the ladder mode, frustrated enough as a toddler to curse out an adult for suggesting I take a break from the game. I should mention it was their SNES I was playing on. The American release of Tekken 3 for the PlayStation One coincided with my third birthday: April 29, 1998. I can remember the feel and look of the game disc, Jin Kazama’s red, studded gauntlets, Hwoarang’s Tae Kwon Do gi, King’s… Jaguar head. Absolutely cannot forget about King’s alternate fit; it was straight fire.
I was even inseparable with the game’s instruction booklet reading on all my favorite characters and learning their hobbies and blood types. Thinking back, that wasn’t the only manual that listed characters blood types it was a fairly common occurrence. Blood types were treated similarly to astrological signs in Japanese culture. I played this game by myself, making up new storylines in my head using my favorite characters and taking them to all my favorite locales. The character and stage design were beautiful… Remember this was 1998 and these designs are old enough to have finished college. The games final boss Ogre crept into my nightmares but Tekken 3 jump started my imagination and never ending love of fighters.
Becoming a World Warrior
The great granddaddy. The pioneer. The OG. The one (of 5) and only. The ember that sparked the coal that lit the flame that started the fire that burned the forest and scorched the earth leading to the birth of the fighting game community. Super Street Fighter II Turbo…
and the first time I was able to play the seminal title was on this bad boy…
If Tekken 3 spawned my love for the genre, then Super Turbo Revival threw it in a coffin, locked it, threw away the key and buried it in cement. I was hooked. The moves, the stage design, character aesthetics, everything about the game blowing my 6 year old mind. Picture the childish wonder and amazement when, while mashing buttons and spamming sweep I threw my first hadouken, activated my first super, defeated the game’s final boss, the evil dictator M. Bison. Eventually I went on a personal mission, not unlike the game’s main character Ryu, to test myself and my skills in the heat of battle by attempting to beat Bison with every single character. This journey was arduous, truly taking its toll on me and after losing a Ryu mirror match and discovering the GameBoy Advance’s secret weakness of headbutts, I did complete my vision quest. I walked off in the sunset in search of a new challenge.
Test Your Might… In 3D
On a frigid, bone chilling night in November 2002, I traveled far to Best Buy in search of the game I’d been anticipating for months. Upon booting the game I was enticed and playfully tantalized by nothing more than a mere intro trailer… a trailer climaxing with one simple phrase: “Liu Kang is dead”.
Accompanied by adults because the game was rated M for Mature, I made my first, but not even close to last, purchase of a Mortal Kombat title. I tore into the games single player modes with fervor, Christmas had truly come early that year. Deadly Alliance was the first MK game to have both “Konquest Mode”, which expands upon the overall plot of the series by following the events of sorcerers Shang Tsung and Quan Chi’s titular team up, and “The Krypt”, which I recall endlessly walking through using the gems I had grinded for in “Konquest”, to open the coffins in search of one of the game’s 9 unlockable characters. I never did unlock all the characters or costumes, but my time with the game was enjoyable enough that when the next installment:
Mortal Kombat: Deception came out in October 2 years later I instantly bought it as well. Deception was a superior sequel in every way imaginable: Controls, single player content, aesthetics, etc. “The Krypt” was expanded and made to be more interactive, the 3D “Kombat” was vastly improved, the movement was smoother, developer Midway had a better handle on the tri fighting style mechanics of the game, there were incredible bonus modes including chess and a form of battle Tetris where you would go head to head with other players. But the absolute, indisputable, inconceivable, piece de resistance of the game was its vastly improved “Konquest” mode. Discarding Deadly Alliance’s mission based setup in favor of an RPG style overworld with action-adventure gameplay, “Konquest” placed a brand new character named Shujinko at your control. Shujinko is launched on a quest by an “Elder God” and has many run ins with all your favorite MK characters, growing older in the process as he travels in between the MK universe’s 6 realms using a hub called the “Nexus”. “Konquest” was also filled with chests that could be opened, similar to the coffins in the “Krypt”, contained unlockable characters, costumes, stage, concept art, etc. Deception holds a large place in my heart and is possibly my personal favorite MK title to this day.
After another 2 year interval the final entry of Mortal Kombat’s 3D era Armageddon released in October 2006. Armageddon’s goal was a simple one: go big or go home. Featuring 62 characters (every playable fighter from every game) and 33 arenas to battle in, while attempting to wrap up the series winding mythology. The game did have to cut back in a couple key areas. For starters, one of the hand to hand fighting styles of each character was cut from the game, leaving just one hand to hand style and a weapon stance. The other major area Armageddon was lacking in was the fatality department. Every fatality was removed from the game and replaced with the Kreate-a-Fatality system, which was neither well executed nor well received. It also included the “Motor Kombat” bonus mode, a Mario Kart homage which was a ton of fun. Though broad in scope, the conclusion of the MK 3D era fell a little short of the previous entry. Armageddon concluded my journey with fighting games for a period of time, as I didn’t really interact with the genre from 2008-2013. My rediscovery of the fighter genre and my love for it will be explored in a follow up to this post.